By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
The president's first comment blamed others: "I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services." Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, was more specific with her finger of blame, saying, "The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety." She did not explain why she or her staff had missed the false information.
CIA director George Tenet, reading the Bush/Rice tea leaves, immediately fell on his sword. In a statement, he said, "I am responsible for the approval process in my agency. . . . These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president."
No one in the White House has been able to offer a compelling explanation for how all this could have happened, considering that three-and-a-half months earlier, reviewing the draft of another Bush speech about Iraqto be delivered in Cincinnati on October 7the CIA directed the White House to remove a mention of the Niger-uranium tale. So the president's coterie men had been alerted long before the State of the Union address.
There's more. Eleven days after Tenet took the blame, the deputy national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, stepped forward and said it was all his fault. He said he had received the CIA warning memos about the Cincinnati speech in October, but didn't have any memory of them when the issue surfaced again in the State of the Union speech. "I should have asked that the 16 words be taken out," he said. "I failed in that responsibility."
Some of this sounds like a Three Stooges movie. But some of it sounds like people caught in the headlights.
The most important thing to remember is that none of this could have taken place if hard-liners like Cheney and the Pentagon's civilian leadership and possibly Bush himself hadn't been playing with the truth to bring the war they wanted to fruition.
The other important thing is whether Americans will care at the polls next year that their president told them so many whoppers to get his way.